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Medical professionals should not be ‘forced’ to assist patients to end their lives, MPs told

Medical professionals should not be ‘forced’ to assist patients to end their lives, MPs told

No medical professional should be ‘forced’ to assist patients to end their lives, MPs were told during a debate on changes to legislation on assisted dying.

MPs debated assisted dying this week after a petition of more than 200,000 signatures called for a vote on the issue.

The meeting held in Westminster Hall heard from speakers in favour of changes to legislation as well as those who oppose such a move due to the impact it may have on vulnerable people.

The petition, which had more than 203,000 signatures, called for the Government ‘to allocate Parliamentary time’ for assisted dying to be ‘fully’ debated in the House of Commons and to give MPs a vote on the issue.

In its response to the petition, the Government said its view remains that ‘any change to the law in this sensitive area is a matter for Parliament to decide’.

The debate, which was not associated with any vote, heard from a range of MPs including those who had changed their minds over time.

Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi opened the debate and was among those speaking in favour of a free vote on the issue.

‘Whatever our own views, we must recognise that public opinion has shifted in favour of assisted dying,’ she said.

She added that medical organisations she had spoken to ahead of the debate agreed ‘that no medical practitioners should be forced to assist patients to end their life’.

She said: ‘Everyone I spoke to agreed that no medical professional should be forced to assist patients to end their lives. That stance is an interesting one, which we should consider.’

According to a survey last year, nearly half of UK doctors think that a physician-assisted dying (PAD) law ‘would negatively impact the medical profession’.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas noted that legislation on assisted dying might include ‘strengthening doctors’ skills in recognising signs of coercive behaviour in relatives’.

But other MPs, from both Labour and the Conservatives, warned of the risk of harm to vulnerable people including those with disabilities.

The debate came as the Government responded to a recent Health and Social Care Select Committee report on assisted dying which noted that Scotland, Jersey and the Isle of Man may change the law in the next few years.

Committee members had urged the Government to consider the impact of this on the rest of the UK.

In its response, the Government said it would work closely with devolved administrations to discuss the ‘practical implications’ of any legislation that may be introduced to allow assisted dying and any constitutional issues this may cause.

It said there would be time to do this during the implementation period as regulatory measures were being put in place, but the health committee said this would be too late.

In its response to the inquiry, the Government focused mainly on palliative and end of life care provision in which it said it had already introduced a number of significant changes.

This includes that from April 2024, palliative and end of life care being added to the list of topics for performance discussions with national and regional NHS leads and the introduction of a dashboard to help ICBs plan and track improvement as well as encouraging the use of advance care plans.

Steve Brine, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, who spoke at the Westminster Hall debate, said: ‘We welcome the Government setting out its intention to work closely with the devolved administrations and the Crown Dependencies to discuss the practical implications of any legislation introduced to allow assisted dying/assisted suicide.

‘Ministers expect there to be time for discussion following possible legislation being passed, but we say conversations need to start earlier than that.’

He added that there is real concern that with ICBs under funding pressures ‘hospice care risks becoming the poor relation’ with ongoing disparities for those in deprived areas.

Successive UK governments have said any change in law should be a matter for Parliament rather than based on Government policy.

Labour has pledged to hold a free vote on assisted dying if it wins the next general election, and the Green Party has also made a manifesto policy to have a vote on assisted dying in the next Parliament.

In 2021, the BMA said it would move to a neutral stance on physician-assisted dying.

A BMA survey in 2020 found that GPs were ‘generally more opposed’ to physician-assisted dying than other doctors.


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Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Michael Johnson 3 May, 2024 8:37 pm

The Soylent Green argument , sanctity of life religious argument and “doctors being forced” alarmist nonsense are the tired old tropes repeatedly raised by those who oppose a sensible humane right to die law. I suspect there are enough of us who quietly support this that getting doctors to volunteer to be involved wont be an issue.

David Church 3 May, 2024 10:51 pm

The ‘forcing medical practitioners to kill people’ aspect must be a separate debate, taken independently of the ‘rigth to die’ debate. After all, even the mediavel backwards primitive people had public executioners – so why can’t our ‘more civilised’ society manage to separate the issues and the duties?

David Banner 6 May, 2024 8:59 am

As it seems inevitable that some form of “right to die” will eventually come into force (probably in the next parliament), it’s vital to ensure the details are fair and equitable to all parties, otherwise we could end up with a slide down the Canadian slippery slope.

Having said that, even suggesting physicians would be compelled to assist smacks of scaremongering by opponents of the proposed bill. Nobody is seriously suggesting compulsory assistance.

But the Boomer generation (who actually turn out and vote in their droves) are used to getting what they want, and that includes the right to end their lives when a terminal illness is confirmed.

With increasing numbers doing so on the Black Market or purchasing one-way tickets to Switzerland, the case against assisted dying is crumbling, and public opinion has moved inexorably towards having the freedom of choice (the “I can put my cat out of its misery but not myself “ argument we’ve all heard repeatedly). The Esther Rantzen effect will almost certainly be the final blow to the naysayers.

It’s better to ensure the policy is strictly watertight rather than playing King Canute by foolishly trying to stop the inevitable.